“Just Lose It,” the lead single from Eminem’s Encore, was so derivative that it had to be a joke—even the song’s title seemed to mock the Academy Award-winning 8 Mile theme song that elevated the Great White Rapper to a whole new level of acceptance (as if he hadn’t already transcended nearly every other boundary in pop culture). Not only is “Just Lose It” the worst song on Encore, it’s easily one of the most annoying songs of the year (credit Em’s incessant Pee Wee Herman impersonations and tired attacks on Michael Jackson). And then came “Mosh,” a protest song originally intended solely for online promotion but which quickly earned its status as the album’s official second single. “Mosh” is not only a worthy follow-up to “Lose Yourself,” it had the potential to shepherd thousands of young, seemingly apathetic voters to the polls on Election Day—had it not been released after almost every registration deadline in the country.
Following The Eminem Show (in this critic’s opinion, his best album to date) and then “Lose Yourself” (his single best moment), the only place left for Eminem to go was—to unintentionally evoke that other infamous white rapper—to the extreme. “Mosh” seemed to accomplish that, matching America’s angriest pop voice with America’s most righteous pastime: Bush-bashing. George W. Bush and Eminem might seem like unlikely foes—after all, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, right?—but Eminem is the poster boy for pushing the limits of the 1st Amendment, and bashing the President is currently the most vilified form of free speech in the country, so who better to champion the cause? “Maybe this is God just sayin’ we’re responsible/For this monster, this coward that we have empowered,” he spits rhythmically atop a sturdy, dirge-like beat. The rest of Encore doesn’t live up to such brave words; aside from “Mosh,” he succeeded at saying much more on The Eminem Show‘s “White America” and “Square Dance” alone.
At first I thought the track “Puke” might be directed at Bush (it’s preceded by “Mosh” and begins with the sounds of someone vomiting followed by “There I go—thinking of you again”), but alas, it’s just another Kim song. (Is it just me or shouldn’t he be over her by now?) Add to that a litany of toilet humor—burping, farting, golden showers—and you’ve got quite a post-Oscar-win revolt. In many ways, Eminem has become a human blog, recounting and mocking the events since his last album—Paris Hilton’s sex tape, Jessica Simpson’s tuna incident, Christopher Reeve’s death—but, like a bully who keeps getting left back year after year, he almost seems to be running out of nerds to pick on (a whole song devoted to Robert Smigel’s Triumph The Insult Comic Dog?). The title of the album, not to mention its subject’s polite bow on the front cover, seems to signal the demise of Slim Shady the character. Maybe Marshall Mathers will start releasing records under his real name, or maybe he’ll invent some new alter ego.
Regardless of how you feel about his politics, Eminem’s weakest moments are always the ones in which he feels the need to apologize, as he does on Encore‘s first few tracks. The album opens with a mea culpa (“Lord please forgive me for what I do/For I know not what I’ve done”), all the while placing blame everywhere but on himself. “I’ve heard people say they heard the tape and it ain’t that bad/But it is, I singled out a whole race and for that I apologize,” he says on “Yellow Brick Road,” a response to his beef with Source editor/failed rapper Benzino. His apology isn’t surprising seeing as how he’s set up shop on black turf. But we’re unlikely to ever hear him apologize to the gay community (although he does throw gays a bone by dissecting the homoerotic underpinnings of football and the machismo of straight men who “walk around with a manly strut” to counter their “gay” thoughts on “Rain Man”).
No one expects Eminem to suddenly go from homophobe to homo-friendly, or from wife-beater to feminist, but his violence doesn’t preclude him from changing his mind (after all, it’s always the drunks who find Jesus, as Bush can attest to), and it seems to be part of Eminem’s evolution as an artist—and his nature as a person—to become the complete antithesis of what he was, or has been perceived, to be. Not to mention that part of Eminem’s appeal is watching where he’ll go next—since it’s usually someplace new. The problem with Encore is that it calls attention to all of the places Eminem refuses or just won’t allow himself to go. Instead we get more of the same. But isn’t that the essence of an encore (or a reelection, for that matter)? Encores were designed to sate the demand of an audience, usually expressed by applause (or 10 million in sales…or 3.5 million votes), not to satisfy the artist’s compulsion to create something new.